The Mystery of the Haunted Vampire

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Tuesday, January 11, 2005

The Mystery of the Haunted Vampire (Chapter XIX.)

Mr. Carnacki’s story — continued. "We spoke throughout the morning. Once we finished our meeting, we set about making plans to rid Whitby of the vampire plague. "This time we left Adena with a loaded revolver to watch over Lucy’s crate. "Then we stepped out of the hotel. Despite my raincoat, the cold October drizzle sent raindrops down my back. I shivered from the chill. My body ached from the previous day’s fight. Though other injuries appeared more significant, my right leg pained me the most from where I scraped my shin bone against a board. I hobbled along with a walking stick I had borrowed from Armitage. My ribs throbbed from crashing into the shelf. My neck was stiff. My head, which had stitches in the front and back, was the only part of me that didn’t hurt, at least much. When people call me hardheaded, they do not speak figuratively. "Anne took my arm and we walked together past the cemetery and Gothic ruins of the abbey, down the 199 steps to the lower part of the red-roofed town. "We went to the solicitor’s office. It was closed and no lights shined inside the darkened office. "I knocked on the door, but no one answered. Two doors down, a man in a gray slicker carrying a bundle into his office looked up as he slid a key into a door. "‘Looking for a solicitor?’ he asked. "‘Yes,’ I answered. "‘He is not coming in today,’ the man replied. ‘He is home with a cold. Won’t you come in?’ "We stepped inside a small, cluttered office. Stacks and stacks of newspapers were piled throughout the room. ‘Please bear with me a moment. I hate this damp chill,’ he said. The man turned up the gas and stepped over to a cast-iron stove. He threw a shovel of coal into the fire. "The man whipped off his coat and hat and hung them on hooks. "Water dripped off us and formed a puddle. He rubbed his hands together over the stove. "‘Had to step round to the post,’ he said. ‘Would you like the addresses and names of other solicitors in town?’ "‘We really wanted to speak to Mr. Billington,’ I replied. "‘I see,’ he said. ‘He’s a true gentleman. Stops around and has tea sometimes. Privately, neither of us is ever very busy professionally.’ "‘We have not introduced ourselves,’ I said. ‘I am Mr. Smith.’ "‘Pleased to meet you. I am Sean Griffin, formerly a correspondent with The Daily Telegraph,’ the young man replied. "‘Formerly?’ I asked. "‘Yes, I was discharged yesterday by my editor,’ he said. "‘Why were you discharged?’ Armitage asked. "‘I’d rather not say,’ the reporter said. "‘I deduce it is because you wanted to publish a story about the disappearances in town and your suspicion of their connection to a vampire,’ I said. "Griffin’s jaw dropped. ‘How did you know that?’ "‘On your desk is a sheet of paper with a list of names, addresses and dates,’ I replied. ‘Two books, both popular works of fiction on vampires, sit on your desk. You have placed scraps of paper in several places in both novels as bookmarks, leading me to believe you are reading them for more than entertainment. When you took off your coat, I noticed you wore a crucifix around your neck. This could be an indication of your faith, but coupled with the other reasons I mentioned, I infer you take the threat of vampires seriously. As a member of the press, it would be natural for you to want to warn the public through a news article since reporters are the watchdogs of a community.’ "‘Amazing,’ Griffin said. ‘I do not deny it. My editor fired me by telegraph last night. I am to finish my story on a shipping consortium’s complaints about dockworker wages and clear out my belongings by the end of today. How did you know all that?’ "‘I observed,’ I said feeling pleased with myself. "Chief Inspector James snorted. ‘You did not mention that he is unmarried, walked to work this morning, had toast with black-currant jam for breakfast and rolls his own cigarettes.’ "I sniffed, not having noticed the last. ‘None of which seemed relevant.’ "‘The unmarried part might be,’ Captain Albion said. ‘What is it Van Helsing always said?’ The Captain caught my attention and I nodded my approval. ‘Mr. Griffin,’ the Captain asked, ‘would you be interested in giving your information to us?’ "‘Why?’ he asked. "‘Help us stamp out the vampire menace in Whitby,’ the Captain said. "Griffin’s face suddenly turned red. ‘Did Williams put you up to this? Is this his idea of a prank? If Williams would get his fat arse out of his editor’s chair occasionally and speak to the people of this town he would know something horrific is occurring.’ "‘We do not know who Williams is and we do not care,’ Albion said. ‘We are interested in you and your services.’ "Griffin, who had started forward in anger to order us out, sat down on the corner of his desk. ‘What do you want me to do?’ "‘Give us the list of names and any other information you have collected,’ Albion said. ‘We will take it from there.’ "‘I will do more,’ he offered. ‘I will go with you.’ "‘That may not be wise,’ I said. ‘It is dangerous work.’ "‘Who are you people?’ "‘We are private investigators,’ I said. "In the end, we reached an agreement for Mr. Griffin to join us. His previous efforts saved us considerable time. We waited, taking off our coats and huddling around the stove. Rain pelted the windows and we sat quietly as Griffin wrote his last story for The Dailygraph. At 2 o’clock, he sent off the story by post and joined us. "‘Sorry to keep you waiting,’ he said. "‘Why write it for the man who has discharged you?’ Anne asked. "‘He would have withheld my last pay cheque,’ Griffin said. "‘I need to get one thing clear,’ I said. ‘Your work with us in this inquiry must remain confidential. Is that understood? If you write of it in the future, you have to do a fictional account that does not identify the participants. Are we agreed?’ "He smiled. ‘Judging from how my editor received my last story on vampires, I can safely say that will not be a problem. I accept those conditions. But should not the authorities be warned? Should we not alert the public and wire Scotland Yard?’ "The Chief Inspector gave a bitter ironic snort. ‘An excellent idea, my good man.’ "‘I meant no offense,’ Griffin said defensively. "‘I know,’ James said. ‘I am Clive James, formerly Chief Inspector of Scotland Yard.’ "Griffin raised a brow. ‘Former?’ Griffin asked. ‘Same reason?’ "‘Yes,’ the Chief Inspector replied. "‘There is more to this, isn’t there?’ "‘Mr. Smith, I have dealt with reporters in the past,’ James said. ‘I suggest we provide him with more information or else he will spend the rest of the day hounding us questions.’ "We went around the room and introduced ourselves to our new companion. "‘You said your name was Smith,’ Griffin said. "‘I lied,’ I answered. "We told our tale quickly, leaving out many details because we did not know him. What we told him proved enough for him to turn ashen. "‘Do you still wish to throw in your lot with us?’ I asked. "‘I became a journalist because I like a good yarn and I want to help people,’ Griffin said. ‘Ending the terror of vampires is worth the risk.’ "‘Good man,’ Albion said. "He pulled out a map of Whitby. He had circled the addresses of those who had disappeared and placed X marks where they were seen last. He had been thorough; his map summed up what must have taken days for us to uncover. "‘But what made you attribute the disappearances to a vampire instead of another Jack the Ripper?’ I asked. "I noticed Griffin’s hands had begun to tremble as he reached into his bottom desk drawer and pulled out a nearly empty bottle. He splashed the liquor into a tumbler. ‘It came to me in a dream,’ he said. "‘A dream?’ I asked. "‘It was nothing, really. A nightmare inspired by something my friend, Wade Fletcher, had told me,’ Griffin said. ‘He has a struggling cartage business and in my work covering this part of England for a London daily, we became good friends. After the queer business involving the Demeter, I was busy for some time, gathering information and writing my articles. I did not have a chance to see Fletcher for days.’ "Griffin drank down his whiskey. He made a perfunctory offer to share, but we shook our heads. "‘After helping another cartage company move 50 crates of earth from the Demeter to the train station for shipment to London, Fletcher disappeared. But right before he did, he told me a strange thing. He said he thought he saw a man disappear into one of the boxes. When he opened it, he found only earth. The next day I went to Fletcher’s place just outside of town, but he was not there. "‘Three days later, Fletcher’s fiancée, Barbara, disappeared. I had once courted Barbara, but it had not worked out. We remained friends, but you know how it is in a small village. After Fletcher and Barbara disappeared, rumors began to circulate that they had run off together. Then another, darker, tale circulated among some that maybe I had something to do with their ‘going away.’ Constable Wilkes questioned me, but nothing came of it. "Griffin inhaled deeply. His knuckles were white where he gripped the arms of his swivel chair. ‘I have not told this part before to anyone. A week after Barbara was last seen by her mother, I saw her.’ Griffin stopped. ‘At least I dreamt I did.’ "‘Where was she?’ I asked. "Griffin’s voice trembled. ‘She stood outside my bedroom window and beckoned me to come to her.’ "‘Go on.’ "‘Mr. Carnacki, I live in an attic apartment.’ "‘She may have stood on a ledge or a ladder.’ "‘No sir, I went to the window. There is no ledge and there was no ladder. Her face had a lustful expression as she clung to the side like a spider.’ "I pressed him for more details. "‘She said she wanted me. She whispered to me things I’d rather leave untold.’ "He drank more. ‘So I added what I knew together — the state of the victims on the Demeter, including details that I had not reported, Billington’s remarks on his client, the unusual dog that ran off the ship, the disappearances, my dream — and I came to an unbelievable conclusion.’ "I looked at the map. ‘Is there a cellar below Mr. Fletcher’s office?’ "‘I believe there is, why?’ "Albion and I exchanged a glance. ‘Let us go search it,’ I said. "We arrived at Fletcher’s a short distance outside of Whitby. Woods surrounded a pasture for the draft horses. A stable lad who lived nearby had continued to feed the horses. But the building, which also doubled as his residence, had a deserted air. "We posted Anne and Armitage as lookouts at the end of the lane to Fletcher’s. "We went around to the back of the brick building. A board fence surrounded the back. Albion and I boosted Jacob up. He grabbed hold of the top of the fence and scrambled over. He dropped down and lifted the latch to allow us entrance to the back yard. "Jacob pulled out his dagger and popped open a padlock to the inclined cellar doors opening to recessed steps. "‘Isn’t this illegal?’ Griffin asked. "‘Quite,’ replied James, who stood next to him. ‘We’ll get used to breaking the law if we spend enough time with them.’ "Jacob swung the doors open and a hideous rotten smell of decayed flesh wafted up. We all gagged. "‘Perhaps you should stay up here and keep watch,’ I offered. "But Griffin did not lack for pluck. He did not know what lay below, but he held his stout walking stick at the ready and shook his head. Rain had already dampened the cigarette dangling from his lips. He tossed it away with a flick, whipped out his handkerchief and tied it over his face. "I thought of the basement of the clinic on the previous day and my pulse beat rapidly and the muscles of my back tightened. I struck a match to light a torch and started down. Griffin held out his hand for the light. ‘Let me go first,’ he said. ‘My town, my friends, my danger to face.’ "I handed him the light. I tied my handkerchief around my face and prepared to enter the darkness. "My feeling of apprehension increased as I stared at the entrance at the bottom of the worn gray stone steps, so ordinary in appearance yet so fraught with imagined danger. "Griffin started down, ducking to avoid striking his head on the overhead beam. I began to follow, but Jacob tapped my shoulder behind me. When I turned to look, he stepped past me with a mischievous smile. "I took one last glance at the gray sky and the overgrown, weedy lot then descended into a small corner of hell. Albion was behind me with James at our rear. "With each step down, we submerged into the horrific odor that clung to us like when you step into the slimy waters of a weedy pond. "The cellar had a brick floor, but in the middle the bricks had been pulled back haphazardly and the earth showed signs of having been dug up. We counted eight graves. We hung our lanterns from hooks in the ceiling beams. "A shovel leaned against a wall. ‘Go tell Armitage what we have discovered,’ I told Griffin. ‘We have some digging to do. There is no point in all of us being in this insufferable atmosphere.’ "Griffin nodded, looking ashen as he hurried off. "I dug for a time, trying not to breathe in deeply to keep the putrid stench out of my lungs. My entire will was focused on stepping on the blade to shovel up the soil. I did not think it possible, but the rotted meat smell of moldering corpses grew more awful. "I had not realized Albion had stepped away, until I saw him return with three more shovels and a bag of lime he had found in the stable. He tossed the lime dust across the floor to damp down the odor. The others joined me in digging to uncover the bodies. "Uncovered. That word hardly encompasses the act of digging up a body from a shallow, unmarked grave. "I knew I had come into the body when the shovel blade sunk through the earth into a different substance. To this day, I can recall with perfectly awful clarity the sensation of the shovel in my hands as the blade pressed into the decaying, spongy flesh of a corpse. The disgusting memory gives me the creeps. "I slowly scraped back dirt with the tip of the shovel blade until I exposed a face. "By the glow of the torch, I could see that worms had burrowed in the eyes and mouth and tunneling rats had gnawed away the skin and flesh down to the cheek bones. "I stepped to the side, my head swooning from the putrid atmosphere. I barely pulled my handkerchief from my face before I vomited in the corner. "Chief Inspector James came over and gave my shoulder a squeeze. He took me by the elbow and guided me outside to the fresh air. The rain had lessened to a soft-falling drizzle. I wished for a downpour to wash the foulness off me. I did not think I would ever be clean again. James guided me to under the overhang. "‘Rest easy a moment,’ he said with a surprising gentleness. ‘You should not exert yourself too much after receiving a concussion yesterday.’ "‘Will this ghastly business ever end?’ I asked him. "‘No,’ he said. ‘It never does.’ "At that moment, I understood the world-weary outlook of the Chief Inspector a bit more. It was not the first time he had dug up corpses. "The gate swung open and the Chief Inspector and I glanced nervously at it. Griffin entered. ‘I thought I’d take a turn.’ "James handed him his shovel. I stood up. I thanked the Chief Inspector for his kindness and he lit a cigar and nodded to me. "I returned to the cellar and motioned for Jacob to go up. He wiped the sweat off his brow with a grimy sleeve and passed me his shovel. "Armitage came down and spelled Captain Albion. James had taken Armitage’s place on lookout. "We eventually dug down to all of the bodies. James joined us, leaving Anne alone at the end of the lane. "Two of the corpses, identified by Griffin as Wade Fletcher and Barbara Barker, appeared as fresh as two people taking a nap. "The others were badly decayed. ‘What do we do now?’ Griffin asked, his voice muffled under his mask. "‘Now Mr. Griffin, you must be strong,’ I said. ‘I shall take this stake and hold it over Miss Barker’s heart. You shall drive it into her chest and her soul will be released. She will no longer be Un-Dead.’ "Griffin looked down at the woman he had loved amidst the unearthed bodies of so many corpses. He took the shovel and I stepped into the narrow hole we had dug. She lay about three feet deep. I held the wooden stake between her breasts. ‘Strike quickly,’ I said, wanting to not only make it mercifully short for him but also to get out of the frightful hole. "Griffin held the shovel ready to hammer down with the flat of the blade onto the stake. He looked at Miss Barker’s face. His grim expression faded to sadness. ‘I can’t,’ he said, dropping the shovel and darting out the cellar doors. "Our eyes followed him up. We looked at each other, feeling pity for him. Albion stepped over next to me. He swung the blow and as the stake punctured her, a horrific foulness burst from her chest and a terrified shriek from her lips. Holding my breath, I placed the end of my shovel blade over her neck to decapitate her. I lifted my foot to step down on the shovel blade and I hesitated only a moment, looking down at her mouth drawn back in fear and agony. "Suddenly, the other vampire rose from his grave as if in response to his Un-Dead lover’s screams. The men instinctively jumped back as Fletcher leaped from his grave. "Fletcher lashed at me with his talons. I dropped down to evade his blow, but since I stood in the grave I landed on top of the dead woman. "I heard a strange scratching in the soil and a rat poked through the soft earth next to me. I screamed as it jumped on my shoulder. As I grabbed its tail to pull the rat off, the rat’s sharp teeth bit into the flesh of my right hand. I hurled the rat away. The vampire under me thrashed in agony, pinned to the soil by the stake, but clinging to her Un-Dead existence since she had not been beheaded. "In the gloomy shadows from the surrounding lanterns, I saw another rat dig through the soil, drop onto her face, then scurry across her quivering body toward me. "I jumped out of the hole. More rats emerged from the soil and walls, swarming at our feet like a hideous, living gray flood. Their teeth snapped at our ankles as we kicked and stomped at them. "In a mad rush, we raced up the stairs and Griffin slammed the doors down. Jacob slid his shovel handle through the cellar door handholds to bar it. "Beneath, the squeals of the countless rats mingled with the shrieks of Miss Barker and the grief-stricken cries of her vampire lover. "We stepped backwards, deeply frightened and unable to look away from the cellar doors. "‘Reckon that could have gone better,’ Jacob said without a trace of irony. "As one, we turned and looked at him. He stared at the cellar doors. ‘What are we gonna do now?’ he asked. "Before we could answer, the shovel handle snapped like a match stick and the doors exploded outward. Hundreds of rats poured forth followed by Fletcher, his face diabolic in his rage. "We screamed and in a mad panic dashed across the yard and out the gate. "A few of us turned left and others right, trying to put as much distance as possible away from the horror. "Racing down the lane, I shouted a warning, "Anne, run!’ "All at once, I spied Lucy silhouetted at the end of the lane a naked sword in her right hand. "Anne later told me that she watched Lucy transform from a bat into an avenging angel with sword in hand, her cape billowing behind her like wings as she landed beside her. "Without a word, Lucy rushed past us in a blur. With a wave of her free hand, she dispersed the rat horde. "Arms widespread, she leaped over the eight-foot-high fence with a graceful bound and disappeared from view. "Albion and I sprinted back to the yard, sliding to a halt on the wet grass. "At the gate, I held my revolver at the ready and peered inside. Lucy stood over Fletcher’s headless corpse by the gate. "She had saved us. Dr. Armitage’s Journal. October 20, 10 p.m. Whitby. — If I live to 100, I will never see a more fantastical sight than Lucy Westenra, armed with Sergeant Walekar’s sword, flying over the fence to our rescue. Earlier in the day, we found a newspaper correspondent, Sean Griffin, who had been looking into local disappearances. He too had come to the conclusion that vampires were involved. Secreted in the cellar of a cartage business that had carried Dracula’s coffins from his ship, we found two vampires and the graves of six of their victims. The vampires had kept the victims trapped in the cellar, slowly draining them of blood, then killing them instead of turning them into vampires. We spent hours digging up the graves in the cellar, a malodorous, vile place. Christopher Marlowe was right when he wrote ‘Hell hath no limits.’ I was there today. But when Carnacki and Albion staked a female vampire, the male rose from his grave and unleashed a rat horde upon us. We fled for the gruesome afternoon spent digging up the decomposed bodies had sapped our courage. As we scattered in headlong flight, I saw Lucy shoot past like a low-flying, bat-shaped comet. We rallied at the sight of our vampire ally. Carnacki and Albion arrived back at the yard before me with James following. Lucy stood over the decapitated vampire. She lowered her blood-dripping sword and rushed to Carnacki. ‘Thomas, are you alright?’ "Thanks to you," he said. "You saved us all." Carnacki winced as her embrace nearly crushed his injured ribs. She looked beautiful, radiant, and absolutely desirable. Even though Eleanor awaits me at home, I could not help but feel some jealousy of Lucy’s obvious affection for him. "I was having a nightmare," Lucy said as she let go of him. "You were in danger. I took Sergeant Walekar’s sword from the Captain’s room and raced here." They held hands briefly and then let go when they realized we had surrounded them. Adena arrived, breathless from having hurried to follow Lucy’s bat-form from the hotel. Thomas and Lucy stood over the headless corpse. Lucy looked down at the body and smiled with wicked delight at her deed. "I have never killed before," she said in a tone that made my heart race with fear. "I am sorry you had to do that," said Carnacki in concern. "I am not," she said, lifting her face skyward. Smiling, Lucy closed her eyes and raised her arms. Suddenly lightning flashed — instantly followed by a tremendous crack — illuminating her in brilliant white light. The wind roared and the rain flew sideways with such force it stung my face. "I am so glad you are safe," she said, leaning forward into Carnacki. "Is this storm your doing?" he shouted over the howl of the rising wind. "I do not know," she said. "But I love it. Let me kiss you, Thomas." In the bright burst of another close lightning strike, I saw Carnacki’s lips part. His head tilted to the side, exposing his neck with the movement. Nearly as fast as the lightning, Adena stepped between them. "Lucy, you will drown us," she said. "Come, we must go inside." Like one snapped from a daze, Lucy looked at Adena tugging at Lucy’s cape sleeve. Anne joined her. "Come, Lucy, come. Mr. Griffin, take us to your office. Henry, help me escort Lucy." I did as Anne bid, but I took a last look at Carnacki. He appeared bewitched until Albion shook Carnacki’s arm. Together they dragged Fletcher’s body inside the cellar, back to his grave. Carnacki explained later that as a precaution they decapitated the other bodies and drove stakes through their hearts, sprinkled holy water on the ground and covered over the graves. When we spoke at our hotel that evening, I almost asked him about what had passed between him and Lucy. But I did not. Even though the near-kiss happened in front of us, it seemed a private matter. His manner made me think he did not know the answer anyway. "Lucy, Adena, I do not believe you have been introduced to our newest companion," I said. "Miss Westenra, Miss Metzner may I introduce you to Mr. Sean Griffin, formerly of The Daily Telegraph. "Did you write the articles about the Demeter, Mr. Griffin?" Lucy asked, a becoming smile on her lips. He nodded although he could not hide his wide-eyed fright of her. "I followed them with keen interest," she said. "A friend of mine even clipped them out for her keepsake book." He mumbled his thanks. The door opened and Carnacki and Albion blew in with the storm, the rotted stink of decomposed bodies still clinging to them. It reminded me that the smell probably was on the rest of us who had been in the cellar as well. We returned to our hotel where we bagged our wet clothes, thankful for the hotel’s laundry service. We remained the hotel’s only guests. Sean Griffin returned to his home, but promised to join us in the morning for breakfast. We took turns using the bath at the end of the hall. I soaked and scrubbed and scoured, but the odor seemed to have penetrated the pores of my skin. In my room, I wrapped my brown robe around me and sunk into the wingback chair in front of the fireplace, luxuriating in the warmth and peacefulness and quiet and pretending the events of the day never happened. Someone knocked on my door. I ignored it. A moment later the door opened and Adena stepped into my room. "Mr. Huxley has been kind enough to offer to make us dinner," Adena said. "I do not have much of an appetite," I said. "But thank you." "Would you like me to bring up tea?" "That is kind of you to offer," I said. I opened my journal. There is no way to truly describe the sights, the smells, and my thoughts. It is for the best. I do not want to remember them. But I suspect they will be in my memory for as long as I live.


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